My Saturday started out as another uneventful, ordinary day. It began with a shower. Then I worked on a home remodeling project and was finishing up on a client design project when my ordinary day abruptly ended with a ride by ambulance to the local hospital. Here is what happened. While working on my computer, I suddenly experienced an excruciating and debilitating headache. I summoned my eldest son to get me a Tylenol and my heating pad. I thought I might be having a migraine. I took the medication and tried to relax. Several minutes passed and the headache got worse, not better. Then my right forearm began to ache and I was nauseated and dizzy and felt as if I might pass out. At this point, I told my son to call 911. I didn’t feel right, but the symptoms were still leading me to believe I was experiencing a “very bad” migraine. By the time the paramedics arrived, I knew I had made the right decision. My right forearm pain was now more intense and the right side of my chest felt like someone very large was sitting on me.Was I having a heart attack? I immediately pushed the notion aside. “No way, I thought. It has got to be something else!”

It was at this point that I remember becoming very diaphoretic and short of breath and I will never forget the look on my son’s face. I was not frightened for myself. I was more concerned for him. My husband and youngest son had left earlier in the day to go to the U of M football game in Ann Arbor and Matt had remained home and was now having to deal with this emergency by himself. Despite the flurry of activity and my rising inability to control my breathing, I tried to focus on reassuring Matt and encouraged him to call various family members to come up to the hospital to be with him. The ambulance ride and my time in the emergency room remain a blur. Consent papers were quickly signed by my son. It wasn’t long before I was whisked away and rushed to the cath lab. I quickly uttered the words to Matt, “I will see you in a bit. I love you.” Hopefully my son heard me. By this time, I felt like I was in a wind tunnel and I was not sure if anyone could hear what I was saying.

The next thing I remember was the cardiologist saying, “Hi Barbie, you are in recovery. You had a heart attack. I put in a stent and you are doing fine. We will talk a little later.” “Surely there must be some mistake?” My eyebrows furrowed questioningly. “I am only 53 years old,” I thought. The doctor’s words spun around inside my head before they landed with a thud in the pit of my stomach. It was then I realized the doctor was talking to me. It has been a rude awakening, but an awakening none the less. Combine my genetics along with being overweight and out of shape due to other physical issues and I suppose I was an accident waiting to happen.

I consider myself fortunate. I am one of the lucky ones. I have survived. I have been given a wake-up call to not take life for granted and to start taking better care of myself versus always being more concerned about doing and providing for others. To wrap this up, please understand, a heart attack can happen to anyone. My advice: Do not take life for granted. Live each day to the fullest. It could be your last! Enjoy living!

  • Be pro-active about your health and wellness.
  • Get regular medical checkups and know what you need to work on to become healthier.
  • Eat properly.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Understand and accept that sometimes no matter what you do, you may need medication.
  • Realize that the symptoms of a heart attack are not always the “classic ones” we are familiar with – especially if you are a woman.
  • Hug your family members and tell them you love them regularly.
  • Understand it is OK to spend time on you. Being a mom, spouse, business owner, friend and helper does not preclude the need to care of oneself. I’ve got some living to do! I hope you do, too!

Editor’s Note: This article was written in 2010 following my heart attack to help women become more aware of less familiar heart attack symptoms and promote healthy living habits. However, I encourage everyone (not just women) to wake up and take notice.